“X-Men: Battle of the Atom” #1 had my attention as soon as Marvel combined Art Adams’ covers with the timing of a late summer event. Writer Brian Michael Bendis and artists Frank Cho with Stuart Immonen and Wade Von Grawbadger do a fine job of filling this issue with energy, excitement and flair, making it feel like an event. The creative team hits the high notes just right to transform the book into a spiritual descendant of the “Uncanny X-Men Annuals” Adams drew in the 1980s. Those stories blended Asgard and the Mojoverse into the X-Men’s lives and readers have held those stories up as enjoyable, timeless tales of the world’s mightiest mutants. This comic book takes full advantage of the event’s attention-grab and delivers beautiful artwork and an intense story.
Opening with a scene in which an X-Man crosses a line and unleashes chaos, “X-Men: Battle of the Atom” examines the ramifications of the time-displaced original X-Men. As the writer for both “All-New X-Men” and “Uncanny X-Men,” Bendis slides in perfectly as the most appropriate scribe to launch a ten-part crossover that includes “standalone” bookends around the four primary titles in the X-Men corner of the Marvel Universe. The action in this issue focuses on the All-New squad, giving Kitty Pryde a chance to shine as a leader and Bendis an opportunity to identify all of the players involved for the readers. Reading Young Cyclops addressing Kitty Pryde as “Professor K” isn’t going to lose its charm anytime soon, and it only further fertilizes the nostalgic feeling this comic book evokes.
The story itself is quick and exciting, touching on the past, glimpsing the future and exploring the present. Everything a reader needs to know about the X-Men is right here, waiting to initiate new readers and bolster the attention of X-fans who have stood by all along. While I’m not as emotionally tied to the X-Men as I am the Avengers, I did find myself holding my breath in the middle of this story. The conclusion was not as impactful as the “Holy crap!” moment in the middle, but it did leave me quite eager for more. Unfortunately, this is one instance where having an advance review doesn’t pay dividends. I now have to wait an extra week to continue this tale that I was initially passingly interested in.
Lead-off artist Frank Cho squeezes in some of his trademark cheesecake and suggestive poses, but mostly uses his powers for good, providing stunning designs for the opening page (which is composed as though it is disintegrating in slow motion), the page that explains the recent history of Charles Xavier’s dream and young Jean Grey’s psychic projections. Frank Cho fills his portion of “X-Men: Battle of the Atom” #1 with superior amounts of detail, beautiful character drawings and stunning surroundings — including dragons, Sentinels, and the debut of a new mutant intent on razing Phoenix, Arizona. Cho doesn’t complete the issue, getting an assist from the more than capable Stuart Immonen. The gorgeously intense coloring of Marte Gracia wonderfully masks the shift between the artists. It wasn’t until I had finished reading this issue that I went back, analyzing each panel on each page one more time, to see where the shift occurs. Letterer Joe Caramagna helps solidify the cohesion with his smart lettering. The combination of Cho’s artwork and Caramagna’s letters on the fourth page of this issue is darn near frameable, packing so much backstory and even more emotion into just one of this issue’s pages. Immonen delivers a visual treat of equal importance as he draws a definitive image of the far-flung future X-Men.
“X-Men: Battle of the Atom” #1 is exactly the type of offering Marvel needs to provide to ride the Marvel NOW! wave. The characters are wonderful and human, emotional and adventurous, dedicated and scared, just as the X-Men were in the Art Adams-drawn Annuals of yesteryear. I was willing to let this event pass me by, but following the back-of-the-neck grab that opens the issue underneath Adams’ retro-glorious cover, I’m all-in for the “Battle of the Atom.” Well played, Bendis and crew, well played indeed.